June 2002
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What are stereotypes? A stereotype is a fixed or conventional image of a person or group of people. Stereotypes generally conform to a pattern of dress and behavior that is easily recognized and understood by a mass audience. Often, a judgment is made (through historical and statistical information gathered) about the person or group being stereotyped. That judgment may be positive or negative.

Why does the media use them? Most television programs, books, magazines, ads and newspaper have a very short frame in which to reach their audience. Therefore identities of characters/images must be established as quickly as possible. To do this, television, radio, magazine, movie and newspaper writers often use stereotypes.


All teens drink
Black people are criminals
Woman are emotionallly and financially dependent on men
Girls in music videos are scantily-clad to 'seduce' their man
A "real man" is adventurous, masterful, intelligent
Little girls play with dolls and make-up
Boys play with trucks and play sports

Stereotypes can affect the way a viewer perceives men/women in general. For example, male stereotyping can narrow one's notion of what men can be and do; it can affect women's and children's expectations of men; it can even shape men's and boys' own views of themselves and of how they should behave.

Culture and class stereotypes are also prevalent in television. Traditionally, blacks were portrayed as either happy-go-lucky servants or dangerous criminals. While things are beginning to change, too often minorities are portrayed stereotypically and almost never as powerful or rich as the white majority.

Because stereotyping can lead young children to form false impressions of various societal groups, it is important that students recognize stereotypes and understand the role they play in television's portrayal of REAL LIFE.

To become meda-wise, students must tune in to the ways media treats people, recognize how they themselves relate to characters on TV, movies, magazines, newspapers and in books. They need to understand how these characters can influence their ideas about the real people in their communities.

The next time you watch a cartoon, tv show, movie; read a magazine, book or newspaper, ask yourself these questions:

What do you think?

How do you feel about ads and television shows that put 'labels' on people?

Tell us about shows, articles, movies you've seen that use stereotypes frequently.

Here are additional resource information on stereotypes:

Check out SNN Lesson Plan #8 dealing with group barriers and stereotypes.

SNN articles:
Teens vs. The Media
Media Awareness Website


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